Jason Barnhart, M.D.
One of the great aspects of our residency program is the opportunity we have to spread the love of our Master through the gift of healing He has bestowed upon us. At our residency, we share this gift daily in our clinic and in the local mission trips we make to the underserved areas of our community. We are also provided an opportunity to fulfill Jesus’ exhortation in Matt 28:18-20.
When my wife and I began to look for places to serve, we knew we wanted to go somewhere that truly needed medical help; an area not frequented by physicians. We also knew we wanted to bring our two children. It is so important, especially in America, that children see other cultures and experience how others live. After much prayer, we settled on Brazil, specifically the Amazon river area. My wife’s grandparents had been missionaries there many years ago, which added to the excitement of our calling.
We arrived at our destination, an Amazon river village called New Jerusalem, in the middle of the night. The journey had been memorable, to say the least. Ten hours in the air, followed by thirty hours in a boat, then another six hours in a smaller boat. Although some larger areas of the Amazon river have power, there was none to be had in our small village. Actually, truth be told, it was more a collection of several wooden structures in fairly close proximity.
It was pitch-black. We were all exhausted. It was also completely quiet, aside from the animals in the jungle welcoming us. The Howler monkeys were a special treat. Although they’re fairly small, they have a very guttural cry in which they engage for minutes at a time. Jennifer told our kids that it was the wind and there was nothing to worry about. That seemed to work, or maybe they were too tired to care. It was hot. Coming from South Texas, I’m used to hot, but this was a special kind of hot: jungle humidity and no electricity. We had wanted God to stretch us, and He was meeting that need!
Our typical day involved heading out early in the morning and heading down the Amazon to even smaller villages, often only having two or three wooden structures. I set up shop at a desk with my stethoscope and otoscope/ophthalmoscope set and awaited whoever showed up. We had two local nurses who would get demographic info and get a blood pressure and pulse for each patient. Typically, 30-40 patients of all ages would stop to be seen in the three to four hours we were there. The complaints ranged from rashes to hypertension to machete lacerations. I also saw quite a bit of dehydration and rhinosinusitis. It was quintessential family medicine.
The experience was amazing and Spirit-filled. My family and I were certainly stretched beyond our comfort zone, which I believe is God’s desire for us all. What probably stretched me the most was the heat. I’ve been to hotter places, but I always had access to air conditioning and some level of relief. That was not the case on the Amazon. However, invariably, whenever the heat almost got to be too much, there was a cool breeze that would slide across my face. It was a gentle, yet powerful reminder of God’s goodness. In those moments, I was reminded of 1 Kings 19:12 “After the fire there came a gentle whisper…” God is so often found in the small moments. Whether it be a gentle breeze, a prayer with a grieving patient, or any one of a myriad of other moments; God is there. I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to serve in His name and look forward to more opportunities to serve our Master. I’m pretty sure people in northern climates need Jesus, too.